Awe

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Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Psalm 33:1, 4-9; John 15: 9-11.  Focus on the benefits of awe.  Check out Kelly Crandell and the choir as they sing:  We Believe.

In her October 7, 2016 Parade Magazine Article – Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness, Paula Spencer Scott writes:

The hike, in a narrow box canyon, wasn’t going so well. Stacy Bare and his brother were arguing, for one thing. High sandstone walls hid any view, even from the 6 foot 7 inch Stacy Bare. After a second Army deployment, in Iraq, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): drinking too much, suicidal, struggling to find his way forward. What am I doing with my life? What does it mean to be at home, a veteran, anyway?

The trail led to a ladder. “We climbed up, still shouting at one another,” recalls Bare.   “Then we looked up and wham!” The towering slabs of Druid Arch rose up, a sunset-hued Stonehenge in the middle of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The men’s jaws dropped. They laughed. They hugged. “What were we even arguing about?” Bare recalls thinking.

What happened – they were awestruck – altered in an instant by an electrifying emotion that the Bible describes so beautifully as the fear of the Lord, better translated as awe – as the Psalmist says, “Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of God.”

Scientists have recently begun to study this phenomenon. And have found something our Biblical ancestors understood so many years ago. Awe – that dramatic feeling that has power to inspire, heal, change our thinking in an instant and bring us together, without need of words or explanation.

Awe, that feeling I get when I am in the presence of something greater than myself. I have always found it the way Stacy Bare has found it in the presence of the vastness of the west and in connection with others who were there with me.

But there are those who know how to access it, says psychologist Dacher Keltner, who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, and the person who helped Facebook create those “like” buttons and emoticons to signal your emotion. And think of how true that is. Anyone who is on social media loves it when someone likes your post. It brings you joy, a sense of connectedness and having offered something of value.

Keltner writes: “You might recognize awe as that spine-tingling feeling you get gazing at the Milky Way or seeing the Grand Canyon or meeting someone like Nelson Mandela, but his studies show that awe, joy can be accessed much more locally and immediately. A friend suddenly does something nice for you and you are astounded, or you hear a certain piece of music that makes your heart rate increase and your eyes widen and that feeling of wanting to move. Or the wonder you feel when a newborn’s hand curls around your pinkie.

What awe does is bind us together. We are wired to feel it and it helps us act in more collaborative ways, ensuring our survival Keltner says. Facing a great vista, or a starry sky or a cathedral – we realize we’re a small part of something much larger. Our thinking shifts from me to we. As the Psalmist so beautifully puts it: What is man that thou art mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4)

Awe helps us see things in new ways. Unlike fear or excitement, which trip our fight or flight response, awe puts on the brakes and keeps us still and attentive. Which brings to mind the Psalmist’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.” (46:10)

Keltner says, “Awe makes us nicer and happier. Awe causes us to lose a sense of self and just be in the present moment. It’s what Paul Tillich refers to as the “Eternal Now”!

Awe also alters our bodies. Awe is positive emotion that most strongly predicts reduced levels of cytokines, a marker of inflammation that’s linked to depression, that’s why being exposed to nature, which is a great inspirer or awe lowers our blood pressure, build up the immune system.

My wife is planning to do what a teacher by the name of Julie Mann is doing with her Long Island High School students, take them on “Awe Walks” – to connect with nature or art. Mann says that when her students write about these experiences and share them in the classroom kids who never talk in class or pay attention suddenly come to life. She says, “It helps them feel less marginalized, with a sense that life is still good.” Dotty, who is teaching statistics this year, is planning to do experiments with her students, measuring their moods in terms of pleasantness and energy before and after the walk, and then checking in later in the day to see if the effects are lasting.

Awe is something we all need to be reminded of. It’s easy to see things as half full but getting outside of ourselves whether by a magnificent view, the fingers of a baby wrapping around ours or hearing a great song or seeing the change of the seasons, is the way to be reminded as God so beautifully declared of creation: And it was very good!

I’d have to agree. Once I started walking outside I found I was literally able to walk out of what has often been termed seasonal affective disorder – a form of depression that afflicts a lot of us. So wherever you find yourself but especially if you are sad or disgusted by current events know that God is just around the corner wanting to give you the experience of awe.

When you leave here today, do yourself a favor and take time to pause. Look around you. Whether you are grasped by a baby’s touch, or given a smile by a friend or see the beauty of the trees and sky take a moment to see the beauty of God’s creation and give thanks! Amen



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